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Homily – Lent I Year B
Fr Richard Buckingham
Today’s first reading from Genesis tells us of the covenant God made with Noah after the Flood. In that well-known story God looks out over his Creation, over the fruits of his love, and grieves. He speaks out in anguish to the one man who has stayed true, to Noah, saying “The loathsomeness of all mankind has become plain to me, for through them the earth is full of violence. I intend to destroy them, and the earth with them.”
Noah’s family flee into the Ark with the animals, two by two, and the deluge comes, destroying all life upon the earth. It is only a legend but its spiritual truth still compels as we are shown God’s ancient and enormous disappointment with that which he has created. All that promise, all that intelligence, all that beauty and goodness and love within us who are made in the likeness and image of God – besmirched, tarnished and sometimes destroyed by our own foolishness and blindness. There truly seems to be nothing new under the sun. Rightly then this world stands under the divine judgement, and wholesale destruction would be an understandable end to a marvellous dream that went tragically wrong.
Martin Luther, a protestant theologian I’m not much given to quote, was once so exasperated by mankind’s malicious stupidity that he exclaimed:
“If I were God, and the world treated me like it treats God, I’d smash it all to bits!”
Thanks be to God that Luther is not God. Noah, his family and all his animals step forth once more onto dry land and life begins again. God makes a new covenant with Noah and his descendents and vows never to flood the world again. He regrets the destruction and his righteous judgement ends in abundant grace. Legend it may be, yet even now whenever I see a rainbow in the sky it remains for me a joyful sign of hope and trust in our Creator God.
This Old Testament story finds a striking parallel in the New Testament account of Jesus coming in sight of the holy city of Jerusalem and, seeing its corruption, its cruelty and greed, its betrayal of its calling and its denial of decency and humanity, he weeps over it for its moral blindness. “Would that even today you knew the things that make for peace! But now they are hid from your eyes.” This too will lead to destruction, as it did in 70 AD with the destruction of the Temple, that visible and spiritual centre of Judaism.
But here again, as with the Noah story there is a covenant with God, a promise made, a relationship offered. In the Gospel, it is, of course, the New Covenant, the eternal covenant made by God on the Cross.
These two stories encapsulate the meaning of this season of Lent, of justified judgement meeting undeserved mercy. The story of the Flood grapples with mankind’s corruption of the divine likeness within all of us as it meets God’s justice and loving-kindness. Destruction seems the only answer. A new beginning is needed. The pollution must be washed away. Yet even here there is a dawning awareness that the good God is mysteriously beyond human commonsense and understanding. The world so often must seem damnable but God alone sees the whole picture and stays true to his love in creating. He vows never again to destroy his world and his judgement spends itself in mercy.
And so the sinfulness and corruption continued and God continues to grieve in his heart. Then finally Jesus comes forth from God’s loving heart – flesh of our flesh. Here at last is God’s new and final beginning, a new creation. Towards the end of his earthly ministry Jesus comes in sight of the holy city, the place which as a Jew he most loved and revered, and knowing its corruption and sensing its destruction - he weeps!
He sees it all laid out before him, the sorry ongoing saga of our human greed and wilfulness. His ministry has shown him our chronic inability to put ourselves right with God or man. Our sin indeed cries to heaven for vengeance, but instead, in his terrible love for us in our lostness, Jesus weeps.
Here then is the fulfilment of Noah’s story. There too was glimpsed a new beginning after the destruction, a divine mercy which goes beyond justice. Now, in Christ, we are able to see into the heart of God. Now we know that Christ weeps for us and so he has not finished with us yet. You do not weep for those you hate but for those whom you love. He goes forth to die for those for whom he cried.
God in Christ now takes upon himself the destruction demanded by justice and makes a new covenant with us on the Cross – an eternal promise is given, love is restored, sin is forgiven and grace forever flows forth from those bleeding hands and feet. Our very necessary Lent always inevitably leads to Easter.
God, not man, has the last word and shows us that ultimately it is not our corruption and violence which shall prevail but the love, truth, goodness, kindness and joy manifested so fully in the humanity of Christ and implanted as a seed within all who are created in the divine image and likeness.
This is our faith and our hope. This is the covenant we are called to share in. This is our new beginning, which began for us when we were washed in the cleansing waters of baptism: water, which symbolises not the angry destructiveness of a flood, but the outpouring of God’s love upon us. Lent then is perhaps the Church’s “Rainbow season”, when we are reminded of the destructiveness of our sinfulness and how it is met by the promise of God’s forgiving generosity. This promise is made to all of us, but I dare to suggest that those of us who make use of the sacrament of Confession this Easter may experience that truth in a very profound and more personal way.